FamilyLife Today® Podcast

College is a Team Sport

with John Bryson, Robert Lewis | February 23, 2010
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Worried about making new friends at college? All it takes is a little know how. According to pastors Robert Lewis and John Bryson the college years are the most fertile for building lifelong friendships. Lewis and Bryson reflect on their own college days and explain why choosing the right kind of friends will make or break you at college.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Worried about making new friends at college? All it takes is a little know how. According to pastors Robert Lewis and John Bryson the college years are the most fertile for building lifelong friendships. Lewis and Bryson reflect on their own college days and explain why choosing the right kind of friends will make or break you at college.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Worried about making new friends at college? All it takes is a little know how.

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College is a Team Sport

With John Bryson, Robert Lewis
February 23, 2010
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(Interviews with college alumni.)

Lady #1:  Before I left for college, I recognized that friendships were going to be crucial.

Man #1:  One of my friends, who was very empowering for me, was a guy by the name of Brian Buck—from a different culture, a different background.  What he did, what I think a lot of people don’t have, is he saw what I didn’t see in myself.  He was able to love and push me towards a greater hope in my life that I didn’t have or wasn’t instilled in me. 

Man #2:  I am firm believer in guarding the company you keep.  That served me well in college. 

Man #3:  The five years it took me to graduate from college, all five of those years were wrapped in just strong, tight friendships.  They encouraged me when I was down.  They celebrated when I won.  I was able to celebrate their victories.  We did everything together—road trips, taking classes together, living together.  The friendships in college was my biggest take-away.

Lady #2:  Some of the best friends I made were in the dorm, first year.  We were from different places but knew where they were going, knew what they were excited about; and they become your family.  I felt like in college, especially, friends are your family.

Man #4:  I think initially the friendships I had in my college years were ones that hurt me.

Lady #3:  We challenged one another academically, we challenged one another spiritually, emotionally, all that.  So that was the best thing for me to get through college was to just have that core group of friends. 

Lady#4:  I don’t necessarily think I had too many character-shaping friends.  I think that was part of my problem.

Man #5:  One thing about friendships in college is there is a friendship group for anything you want to do.  So if you have an intention to go into any particular direction, you can find a group that will help lead you right to that point.

Bob:  Welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know, listening to the voices of those, I guess those were all college graduates reflecting back on their college days, I was just thinking about my own college experience.  When I left to go to college, my mom said to me, “These next four years—these are going to be the greatest years of your life.  You’ll make friends here that you will keep for a lifetime.  It is going to be fabulous.”

Dennis:  So it was automatic for you as you were a freshman?  You just fell right into a bunch of friendships. 

Bob:  Four years later, I had no idea what my mom had been talking about.  I really didn’t.  Her college experience had been the greatest time of her life.  She made friends that she kept for a lifetime.  She loved it.  My college years—not so much.  My high school years were great.  When I got to college, I didn’t know how to make friends.

Dennis:  In fact, you said you were lonely as a freshman. 

Bob:  My first semester—now this was back in the day when you couldn’t make long-distance phone calls from your cell phone for free like you can today.  I ran up some pretty good AT&T bills back my first year of college, just trying to stay connected to somebody relationally.

Dennis:  With friends.  You know, it is interesting around this whole subject of friends.  I had a similar experience except my first two years, Bob, were not very good because spiritually I checked out of any relationship with God.  The friends I had were around sports because I was on scholarship.  Friends really reflect the values of the young person who is starting college.  That is a frightening thought if the young person isn’t quite sure what he or she values.  We have with us a couple of guys who have worked on a project that I am real excited about.  It has been about—well, Robert, how many years in the making?  Two or three years?

Robert:  It has been about two years, from the time that John and I connected with each other and talked about a vision like this and got excited about it.  It is finally done, and we are real excited about the release.

Dennis:  That is the voice of Robert Lewis who is a pastor here in Little Rock, Arkansas, but also the President of Life Ready.  He works in an organization that provides high-impact video resources to prepare couples, parents, men and women to embrace God’s best for their marriages, families, and lives.  FamilyLife is partnering with Robert to help make this a reality. 

John Bryson also joins us, a pastor from Memphis, Tennessee, also a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary, my alma mater—I just want to plug our seminary choices there.  Also, I think the thing that is really cool about John is that worked with Tommy Nelson, down at Denton Bible, for 11 years on the staff but served as the college pastor for seven years. So you really observed what we are talking about here, this loneliness factor with young people as they start out college.

John:  Absolutely.  I think I saw exactly what Bob described as the norm for most college students.  For most of us, unless you have moved around a ton, friendships kind of happened to you and for you the first 18 years of your life.  For a lot of college students getting to campus for the first time, they may be among 20,000, or 10,000, or 40,000.  The thought hits them for the first time, “How in the world do I go about building new friendships?  I have never had to do that, much less be equipped to do that.”  So that maze of doing that really can take guys to lonely places. 

Bob:  You stop and think about it, the elementary, junior high, high school years, you are just in a social community where, as you said, friendships happen.  When I got to college, I went to my 9:00 class and then I had an hour and a half before my next one.  So where did I go?  Well, back to my dorm room.  There is nobody in the dorm room—it is just me and the TV or whatever I was using to kill time.  Then I go to my next class. 

I wasn’t really meeting anybody in class; we were filing in, sitting down, listening to the lecture, getting up, and walking out.  So unless you join a fraternity or sorority, or unless you are on a sports team, or unless you are in one of those natural settings, making friends at college is hard work.  I didn’t know how to do it, and I don’t think most teenagers know how to do it when they head off to college. 

Robert:  That is exactly right.  They are not equipped for it; and I don’t think for many of them that they anticipate that experience.  I think they have enjoyed, as we just said, that they have been placed in a social environment where friendships are made to happen. 

Now they get thrown into an environment where friendships don’t happen unless they take some kind of initiative and unless they can identify some wise moves, what we call them, to build those relationships.  That is what part of this video series is intended to do is to awaken a high school student to what is coming at them in the future and help them anticipate the key things that they need to do to be prepared to build, not just friendships, but empowering friendships. 

Bob:  I am wondering about that because if I was going to college today, I’m not sure I would know how to initiate, how to break out.  How do you coach these students in this series to move out and begin to test the waters in building friendships? 

John:  We definitely start each of the sessions with a real vision that, “You are going to want some close friends.  You ought to be able to find, and pray for, and look toward two or three what we call character-shaping relationships that you can take with you for the rest of your life.” 

Our tagline for this is that “Life is a team sport.”  That ought to be a pursuit, a skill-set that you equip yourself with because there will be other transitions in your life—moving to a new city, going to a new church—where you need to learn how to engage, take the initiative, to engage well in friendships. 

There are some real clear principles we put in there like:  “To have friends, you need to be a friend;” “Look to give--not to get;” “To put yourself in strategic friendship environments.”  (Go to the places that the type of people you want to become friends with tend to hang-out.  Take some initiative and do the work to build into some of those friendships.)

Dennis:  As a mom or a dad, to coach your son or daughter, the key word phrase, “healthy environments” because I immediately thought, “Where do most young people go look for those relationships?”  A lot of them go to a bar.  They don’t think of church. 

In fact, I think there is some research out that points that if a young person doesn’t get involved in church or a Christian organization in the first 90 days of their college experience, they are going to jettison the whole package for nearly all four years.  Those first 90 days are really critical for a young person to connect with the right people.

Robert:  That is right.  When you are there those first 90 days, you are lonely; you are looking for some affirmation.  You want to bond.  What is unfortunate—if you bond to the wrong people, you tend to stay in that group until it finally destroys you. 

So we are telling the students, “When you get to campus, when that orientation is going on, you are going to see, they are going to present to you with all kinds of different social outlets.  What you need to be aware of is that you need to take that sampling seriously and ask, “Are those environments I would like to be in because there will be good other men and women I would like to rub shoulders with?”  When you go there, you will connect.  Once you connect, you will be on your way to building some long-term friendships that you will enjoy forever. 

Dennis:  One of the things I found interesting about your material is that it is intensely practical.  John, you help a young person understand what happens to them if they don’t get the right relationships.  You talk about four outcomes that take place in a young person’s life.  Share those with our audience, please.

John:  These are really helpful for me.  They actually came out of the Men’s Fraternity material that Robert did that helped us figure out how to navigate this maze of friendship.  If an individual doesn’t have this, there were four things that we identified. 

One was a warped perspective on life.  Left to ourselves, it is amazing what we can talk ourselves into.  God has rigged our life in such a way that it takes more than one set of eyes on us to really be able to see reality—even as we were talking about, to help us find a healthy place.  “What is health?” and “How do we find that?”  To be able to do that was definitely one of the challenges.

Dennis:  Just a comment about that—in war, what the enemy does when he wants to break down a soldier, he puts him in isolation. 

John:  Absolutely.  That is exactly right.

Dennis:  I think that happens on the college campus with young people.  The Enemy gets him in an isolated situation, and you can be convinced of anything in those circumstances.

John:  Absolutely.  That is exactly what we are speaking to.  The second that we talked about is a strong potential for loose living when we break out of the herd, when we are on our own—that tug, the pull of our flesh. 

I think about on the Discovery Channel, I use that illustration, where you see the lions coming upon the gazelles or the deer.  They will circle them until one breaks away.  Then when one breaks away, that is immediately where they go pounce.  Within 12 seconds, it is dinner and bones.  In a lot of ways, that is why we encourage guys and gals to lock arms with like-minded people immediately to deal with that potential of loose living. 

Bob:  You talk about this potential for loose living, and this is going to sound pretty harmless, but I have a distinct memory.  My freshman year, it was a Tuesday night, and I didn’t really have much studying that needed to be done, didn’t have any place to go, anything to do.  I thought to myself, “I think I’ll go to a movie.  I’ve never been to a movie on a Tuesday night before.” 

You know, movies—you could only go to those—Mom and Dad wouldn’t let you go to a movie on a school night.  I didn’t even care about the movie.  I just wanted to go to a movie on a Tuesday night because now, all of a sudden, I could.  Nobody was checking to see.  There was a little bit of that “testing my own wings” and saying, “I can do this now.  I can make these choices.”  Now that is pretty harmless choice.

Dennis:  Was it a good movie?

Bob:  No.   It wasn’t a particularly good movie (laughter); but it is a pretty harmless choice that a student makes.  If your young person calls home from college the first semester and says, “Well, I have to confess; I went to a movie on a Tuesday night.”  There aren’t a whole lot of parents who are going to go, “Our son has fallen off the deep end.”  Right?  But the principle was there; we are starting to test our limits a little more and saying, “The restraints that used to be around us aren’t there.”  For some students, they just go “hog wild.”  Can I say that to an Arkansas graduate, Robert? 

Robert:  Yes.  I’ll let you do that.  (laughter)

Bob:  They go “hog wild” into choices that are not healthy choices.

Robert:  I was thinking of myself.  I went out of state to school.  I was from Louisiana; went to Arkansas.  The dorm I lived in, I was the only person from Louisiana so those first couple of months were desperately lonely times.  I remember sitting in my dorm and thinking I knew one guy from Louisiana who was in a fraternity.  I already knew the guy was not a guy that I particularly would want to run with; but because I didn’t know anybody else, I called him up.  He said, “Well come on down to the fraternity.”  So I went down there.  Within three weeks, I joined the fraternity.  My life was totally out of control.  It was just because of that first choice.

Dennis:  That one friendship. 

Robert:  That one friend…well, it was just a connection; but it was driven out of the desperateness of loneliness.  Once I got hooked into that group, for the rest of that semester I was in this whirlwind of parties and out-of-control living.  I stayed there for one reason—because I didn’t’ know anybody else but those guys. 

John:  I think the word I would put to that is there is a “vulnerability” that first semester.  If you are left alone, it just heightens that. 

The third thing we really point to when we are helping college students understand the importance of empowering friendships and stepping out of isolation and loneliness toward quality people has to do with this loss that happens when it comes to motivation for the noble things in life.  It usually takes, and God usually uses other high-character people, to call us toward what we talk about “the noble pathways.” 

Even in my own life, I think about how it was always a high-character person God used to challenge me to do some of the most noble things I did in college, whether it was to go on a missions trip.  There was an upper-classman that I had connected with in a campus ministry who challenged me to go and invest a summer overseas.  The list could…to go find a mentor.   I would not have done that if left to me, or just my normal peer group would not have encouraged that, or challenged that, or praised that.  Alone, isolated, disconnected, or connected to the wrong people, you won’t get motivation toward those noble pathways.

Bob:  Yes; but the high-character people are not walking around with signs on their back saying, “I am a high-character person.”  So how do you know who the high-character people are so you can get that influence?

Robert:  That is what drives us back to one of the wise moves John talked about—about finding those healthy environments.  I mean, they are out there.  You get on campus—maybe you don’t know about the churches in that area, but you can start sampling those churches.  All of a sudden you connect with one that has a great ministry with college students—it’s alive; it’s vibrant; it’s relevant.  All of a sudden you go, “These are my kind of people.” 

Or maybe there is some other social group or campus ministry that is there.  The thing about that first semester is, “You are a pioneer, an explorer.”  But if you are told, “Don’t connect too quickly; go sample those.”  What happens in that sampling process is you usually run into an environment where you go, “These are my kind of people.  These are the kind of people who will call out the best in me—those noble things--rather than put me in an environment where just to be accepted, I’ll do anything.”

Dennis:  Right.  I Corinthians 15 says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”  That first semester of your freshman year—that can happen, and it could ruin a college experience in a hurry.  What is the fourth caution to young people about the power of friendships?

John:  The fourth caution is kind of what we have already spoken to.  There is a threat of just character corruption.  It is the cost—it is the price tag of attaching yourself to low-character people.  You end up doing things you never thought you would do.  You end up in places you never thought you would be. 

Bob, something you mentioned a minute ago, it is rare.  I think to prepare people for the rarity of character-shaping relationships and mentors in upperclassmen you can look up to is part of preparing them for college.  I think of a Proverb that talks about how rare things are precious.  They are precious because they are rare; and they are rare because they are precious.  That is why we really challenge parents, really challenge high school students to begin praying for that and to look for three or four of those.  To look for a mentor or two over those four years who are encouraging you toward those noble pathways. 

Bob:  You know, listening to you talk about the importance of friendships, I am thinking not only of the loneliness I felt my freshman year in college, but also about how immature I was in terms of relationships and friendships. 

I was looking around for friends.  What I meant by that was, people who would validate me, people who would give me some sense of meaning and worth.  It was really—you talked about being needy—I don’t know that I would have said I was a needy person, but I really was.  I wanted somebody to say, “Hey, you are a cool guy.”  So anybody who would say that, that was my friend.  I wasn’t looking for, “Iron sharpens iron.”  I wasn’t looking for, “How can we pray for one another, and how can we support…?”  I just wanted people to think I was cool.  If you would do that, you were my friend.  That is just the reality of where I was. 


Robert:  And you know what happens.  Satan says, “I’ll give you a guy like that.”  “I’ll validate you, but I’m going to pull you into a sink hole.”

Bob:  Right.

Robert:  One of the things about this series is on this particular session on friendships, the title is not “Friendships.”  The title is “Empowering Friendships”—the kind of friendships that call out the best in you.  John talks about that and even encourages these students to not only pray for these kinds of friends, but to be a good friend.  He gives real practical suggestions of how you can be a good friend. 

In fact, he says, “When you get on the college campus, one of the first things you ought to do is start serving your roommates.  Try to build into people.  Try to do something good for somebody else.  Get the focus off of yourself because to have friends, great friends who call out the best, you need to be a good friend.”  Again, he is waking these high school seniors up to adulthood and to start acting like an adult; but he gives him practical handles to actually implement that. 

John:  That is what this series speaks to is a vision to even begin to look for that or what to look…some kind of idea.  I think just passing that on to an 18-year-old who may not be fully ready to fully engage in friendship in all the ways we would want them to over the next few years but…

Dennis:  Yes, they have to grow up.

John:  Exactly.  So we are trying to be realistic in this--but to even give them a vision that, “This is what you want, and it is precious and rare.  They will shape your character, one way or another.  Man, they are going to be few and rare, and let’s look and pray toward that end.” 

Dennis:  The cool thing is, there are resources on the web that can enable parents and students to be able to connect to some healthy relationships like we are talking about.

Bob:  I know when we were sending our kids off to college we did exactly what you are talking about.  We tried to take the spiritual temperature.  When we do a campus visit, we would look around and say, “What do we see on the dorm walls?”, talk about Bible study or churches in the area, and then to go online. 

A lot of colleges will list student organizations, religious organizations that are on the campus.  It gives you a picture ahead of time of where you are sending your student.  I am sitting here, thinking, “To send a high school senior off to college, prepped with this material, versus sending him off without this preparation, it is night and day. 

Robert:  It is.  You know what, and even the language—just the language at the top—empowering friendships.  “Son,” or “Daughter, we are going to look for where empowering friendships are.”  There is the vision.  And go, “Well, those are ones who will call out the best in you.” 

So now we surf the web; we go to college week; during orientation, we’re looking around.  Then when I call my son or daughter that freshman year, I say, “How is your search for empowering friends going?”  All of a sudden we have a language.  What is lacking with most parents—they have no language so they don’t even know how to ask the right thing.

Dennis:  And know how to pray for their son or daughter as well.

Robert:  Yes, how to pray as well.

Dennis:  What we are talking about here is a video series called College Ready that parents can help lead in a youth group or bring into their own home and invite some kids over for some popcorn over a period of five or six weeks.  Take them through a college preparation course to help them go to college on purpose.

Robert:  That is exactly right. 

Bob:  If you go to our website,, there is information available there about this video series:  You can see some clips of the videos if you would like to, information on how you can order the DVDs, how you can order additional workbooks for students whether you are doing this for a church group or just for a group of your son or daughter’s friends.  All the information you need is online: 

Let me also mention that on our website there is also information about a great graduation gift you can give to a high school senior.  It is the ConGRADulations: Class of 2010 music CD--20 songs from groups like Skillet, TobyMac, Lecrae, Owl City, Flyleaf, Reliant K, and others. 

There is also a companion media DVD that has interviews with artists and speakers, and fellow graduate greetings, advice.  There is a 48-page gift book that comes along with it, and we send to Mom and Dad an audio CD where Dennis and Barbara talk about the kinds of things we need to make sure as parents we have covered with our sons and daughters before we launch them off to college.  Again, more information about that resource can be found online at 

One of the resources you are aware of, Dennis, can be found online is a website called that helps parents know what is going on spiritually on college campuses all across the country.  It gives names of organizations and ministries that are taking place on campuses, it gives contact information.

Dennis:    That is right.  It will help you connect with a person that perhaps you can introduce your son or daughter to when you go visit that campus.

Bob:  Yes.  Again, we have a link to the Everystudent website on our website,  So go to, and everything you need can be found there. 

If it is easier to call, 1-800-FLTODAY is the number.  1-800-358-6329.  That is 1-800-F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word, “TODAY”.  We are aware here at FamilyLife that some of you who have been listening, have just started listening to FamilyLife Today.  Maybe somebody told you about the program, or you just came across it on your station, or maybe you are just recently married or just recently had kids, and all of a sudden you just started paying more attention to a program like FamilyLife Today.

Well, we have a special getting-to-know- us offer we would like to make this week.  We came across a great little book for families called 99 Ways to Entertain Your Family for Free.  It is more than 100 pages of no-cost ways to have a good time together as a family.  We would love to send you a copy just as our way of saying, “Thanks for listening,” and “Nice to hear from you.” 

All you have to do is call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Say, “I am interested in that book they were talking about on the radio—the 99 Ways to Entertain Your Family for Free book.  Pass along your name and address, and we will send it out to you.  Again, it is our way of saying, “Thanks for listening to FamilyLife Today” and we hope we can be a resource to you in the future, not only through our daily radio program but through our website,, our online magazine, The Family Room, and the other resources we have available here at FamilyLife Today. 

Again, call 1-800-FLTODAY to request your copy of the book 99Ways to Entertain Your Family for Free.  We will send it out to you at no cost; it is that simple.  We do appreciate your listening to FamilyLife Today

We hope you will be back tomorrow.  We are going to continue talking about getting our sons and daughters ready for the college campus.  We are going to talk about one of the things that they are excited about, and that is having a lot of fun when they go to college.  That is a goodthing.  We’ll talk about how to make sure it stays a good thing with your son or your daughter tomorrow.  Hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Phil Krause, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Raney, I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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